Elizabethan Poor Laws Essay Contest

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Reasons for Poverty - The Poor in Elizabethan England - Land Enclosure
Changes in agriculture during the Elizabethan period led to people leaving the countryside and their village life to search for employment in the towns. The wool trade became increasingly popular during the Elizabethan age, which meant that land which had been farmed by peasants was now dedicated to rearing sheep and a process known as land enclosure meant that the traditional open field system ended in favour of creating larger and more profitable farming units which required fewer people to work on them. The number of jobs decreased and people were forced to leave there homes in search of employment in the towns. 

Reasons for Poverty - Poor Harvests & Population Increase
During Queen Elizabeth's reign in the 1590's a series of poor harvests occurred. The price of food increased and people were suffering from starvation. This, combined with a population increase of 25% during the Elizabethan era created an extremely serious situation in the land. Starving and homeless people were driven to desperate acts endangering society in general.

Elizabethan England - The Poor Law - 1552 Act
The extent of the problem of the Poor needed to be identified so the 1552 Act was passed in order to officially record the number of poor in each Parish Register, along with the details of Births, Deaths and Marriages. A parish was the smallest unit within the organisation of the Church. Every parish had its own church and clergyman. There were 15,000 Parishes in England & Wales. Parliament suggested that every Parish should appoint two collectors of alms to assist the churchwardens after service on Sunday to “gently ask and demand of every man or woman what they, of their charity, will be contented to give weekly towards the relief of the poor”. The Alms collectors distributed the money to the registered poor of the parish. The Parish Registers provided the information required by the Elizabethan government to assess the extent of the problem.

Elizabethan England - The Poor Law - 1563 Act
The threat to civil disorder led to an Act of the Elizabethan Poor Law to be passed through Parliament in 1563. The different types of Poor people were categorised in order to determine the treatment that they might receive as follows:

  • The 'Deserving Poor' - the old the young and the sick who should receive help
    • These poor people were provided with 'Outdoor Relief' in the form of clothes, food or money

The owner of the Center Lovell Inn, who is giving the property away to the winner of an essay contest, received 7,255 entries, which at $125 each yielded her $906,875, according to a Maine State Police investigation.

Janice Sage, who won the inn in an essay contest in 1993, announced at the beginning of the year that she would be holding a similar contest. She had hoped to receive 7,500 entries, with the proceeds paying for her retirement. A 200-word essay would determine who would win ownership of the restaurant and inn, which has seven guest rooms and views of the White Mountains and Kezar Lake.

Prince Adams, who runs a restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands, submitted the winning essay. But almost immediately, unsuccessful entrants complained that the contest hadn’t been run properly. They disputed that the winning essay was the best of those submitted and speculated that Sage and Adams may have known each other prior to the contest.

The complaints prompted a week-long state police investigation that concluded this week. The Portland Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access request for a copy of the investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Parr said the complete investigation, contained in a binder about an inch thick, was considered investigative and intelligence information and that releasing it could constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Therefore it is not considered a public record, he said. Parr did, however, provide a copy of the investigation narrative in which the names of the people involved, including the essay judges, had been redacted.

The investigation, based on interviews with several of the people involved, describes a meticulous competition process that included Sage reading every essay.

“She has the calloused elbows to prove it,” said the investigation narrative, prepared by Barry Hathaway, an inspector with the State Police Special Investigations Unit.

Sage did not open any of the entry envelopes when they arrived, the narrative said. Initially, she had another person open the envelopes, assign each essay a number, enter the author’s name and contact information in a register and send them a receipt. As the contest progressed and more entries arrived, she brought in more help and eventually had five people processing the mail.

The only rule Sage changed over the course of the contest was to extend it for an additional 30 days, which was permissible under the rules.

She chose the top 20 essays, and then selected two judges to pick the first, second and third-place entries. The judges’ names were redacted but they were identified as a man and a woman. They wrote the winning numbers on a slip of paper and gave it to Sage.

At first, she couldn’t find the corresponding name in the registration materials so she had to seek help from the girl who had filed it, the investigation said.

Winner Prince Adams told police that someone else, possibly Adams’ wife, reads the New York Times daily and saw a story about the contest. Adams eventually entered his essay and learned on June 6 that he had won. He told police he had never met or spoken with Sage before then.

Not everyone is satisfied the contest was handled fairly.

Kass Stone, an American living in London, said in an email that Sage did make contact at some point to clear up some confusion with their entry form. Stone said that at the time, it wasn’t clear that contact between Sage and entrants was prohibited, and that Sage wasn’t supposed to know the identities of essay writers.

But the investigation concluded that the contest was conducted legally and that Sage did nothing wrong. The contest was a game of skill and therefore not regulated by state law covering games of chance and it did not violate any consumer protection laws, according to the police narrative. It also wasn’t a game in which the operator controls the outcome.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman


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